NI Termination of Pregnancy laws remain key concern as UK undergoes CEDAW examination

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NI Termination of Pregnancy laws remain key concern as UK undergoes CEDAW examination

The Human Rights Commission has again highlighted the need for reform of NI laws on termination of pregnancy as the UK reports to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva.

The Commission will address the CEDAW Committee on Tuesday, when it will present key priorities for the protection of the human rights of women in Northern Ireland. The CEDAW Committee will conduct its examination of the UK’s human rights record in relation to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

The Commission will highlight again the UK Government’s ongoing failure to amend termination of pregnancy laws in Northern Ireland. It will also call for the urgent ratification of the Istanbul Convention by the UK Government, and raise concerns about the possible negative impacts of Brexit on the enjoyment of rights by women and girls. The Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence was adopted by the Council of Europe in 2011 and went into force in 2014, but has yet to be ratified by the UK Government.

Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby, commented:

“In June 2018, the UK Supreme Court ruled that Northern Ireland’s laws on termination of pregnancy are incompatible with human rights. In the absence of a NI Executive, we have informed the UN of the failure so far by the UK Government to intervene and uphold its obligations to protect women and girls in NI.

“On Tuesday, the Commission will present our key priorities to the UN CEDAW Committee in the presence of the UK Government, which require urgent attention. As well as the need to reform the laws on termination of pregnancy, immediate action is needed to combat domestic violence in NI. There were 31,008 domestic abuse incidents recorded between October 2017 and September 2018 in NI - an increase of 1,582 on the previous 12 months.

“Last month, the UK Government published a draft Domestic Abuse Bill which includes a commitment to ratify the Istanbul Convention and introduces a statutory government definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse. This Bill applies to England and Wales, but does not extend to NI. We must ensure that the Bill is amended to ensure that women and girls in NI have equal protection.”

The Commission will highlight its concerns relating to the need for increased participation of women in political and public life in NI, and the effective participation of women in peacebuilding in NI. The Commission has also recommended that the cumulative impact of social security reforms on NI women is effectively monitored and addressed, and that the two-child tax credit/Universal Credit limit is abolished.


For further information, please contact Zara Porter on (028) 9026 9761 / 07795 640237 or by email:

Notes to editors:

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

2. The Commission has speaking rights at the United Nations and attended the pre-sessional working group of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee in July 2018, where the Committee discussed issues for the Committee’s upcoming examination of the UK’s human rights record (on 26 March 2019).

3. The Commission’s initial report to the CEDAW Committee, which was considered at the pre-sessional working group, can be found here. In the report the Commission provides recommended questions that the UN Committee may wish to ask the UK government during its examination of the UKs human rights record on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Following the UK’s examination on Tuesday, the CEDAW Committee is due to publish its concluding observations in March 2019.

4. In February 2018 the CEDAW Committee’s Inquiry Report called for the decriminalisation of termination of pregnancy in NI and for access to termination to be permitted in circumstances where there is a threat to the women’s physical or mental health, in cases of rape or incest or in cases of serious fatal abnormality of the foetus. The Committee found the UK Government responsible for grave and systemic violations of the Convention.

5. The draft Domestic Abuse Bill was published by the UK Government on 21 January 2019. In addition to introducing a new definition of domestic abuse, it will establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to drive the response to domestic abuse issues, and introduce new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders.

26 Feb 2019